Fyffes is involved in the production, procurement, shipping, ripening, distribution and marketing of tropical fruits – mainly bananas, pineapples and melons. It owned banana land in Belize and Honduras until the 1990s, but has since divested itself of any production operations in the industry. The Irish-based company is the second largest distributor of bananas in Europe (fourth largest globally), and has been importing bananas into the UK for 120 years.
In 1995, as well as its various European ripening, distribution and marketing partnerships, Fyffes entered into a major venture with the Windward Island Banana Development and Exporting Company (WIBDECO), buying out Geest Bananas, which sold the majority of Windward bananas on the British market. In addition to the Windward Islands, Fyffes sources fruit from Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Brazil, Panama, Ecuador, Honduras and the Canaries.
The company has made numerous joint ventures in Europe in order to increase its marketing reach. In 2005, the company entered into a strategic alliance (taking a 50% share) with the Turbana Corporation, the marketing subsidiary of Colombia’s exporting company UNIBAN, enabling it to develop its US market share.
In 2009, the company bought a Panamanian pineapple plantation, which, combined with existing pineapple farms in Costa Rica, enabled Fyffes to directly produce 50% of the pineapples it markets.
Fyffes is a member of the UK's Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) and a founder member of Global GAP. The company has a 'Code of Good Practice' which forms part of their contract with plantation owners and in theory guarantees workers' rights, particularly freedom of association. However, in reality, Fyffes has not insisted that plantation owners respect workers' human rights, meaning that the Code of Practice has made little difference on the ground.
Fyffes has no direct collective agreements with trade unions either in Ireland or in any of the countries in which it operates, and the company has been accused of using the fact that it owns almost no plantations as a way of relinquishing responsibility for conditions.
Following the creation of a new trade union in Belize, a country where Fyffes is the sole exporter, Irish organisations put the spotlight on the company's role in the country. In 1999, Fyffes joined with Belize government officials, plantation owners and civil society organizations to agree a partnership approach to the future of the industry, however in the years since then, the efforts of the workers to build the trade union were reportedly thwarted by intimidation and firings on farms in Belize. A number of cases for unfair dismissal were brought to court but took years to be judged. Some observers believe that the government was slow to implement its own worker protection laws, fearing Fyffes would take their business elsewhere, leaving the small country's economy in ruins.
Fyffes is a member of the World Banana Forum.
Photo: Banana worker, Costa Rica, 2011